Image by Filter Forge via Flickr Creative Commons.

Digital Cheese

By Will Durst

Plenty of people had good reason to be in a foul mood back in 2012. The Detroit Tigers. Members of the Romney family. And, after making the acquaintance of a windy lass named Sandy, most of New England. Now, we can add to that list the thousands of suckers who were manipulated by our good friend at Facebook. Although the word Facebook coined—unfriend—might fit better here.

Recently, it was revealed the social media behemoth filtered the messages of 700,000 users by flooding them with uplifting and/or depressing posts, then monitoring who got happy and who got sad. “Oh no. Grandma’s bicycle got run over by a garbage truck. Awww. But hey! Watch what happens when this pit bull chews on a kiddie pool.”

They say we agreed to this kind of BS when we signed on, but come on. It’s doubtful even the employees who write them read those user agreements. Typically, they’re longer than the migratory path of the monarch butterfly, more confusing than Cantonese crosswords and displayed in flea font.

Corporate lawyers didn’t evolve from mud-sucking, bottom-feeders for nothing. They know how to hide all sorts of stuff in that fine print. Wouldn’t be surprised to discover there’s a clause stating that in time of war, they own one of my kidneys. And another that gives them the right to call at any time of night demanding help in moving a body.

Google also admits to running 20,000 experiments on its search results every year and you can bet Twitter, Amazon, Pinterest and Crabgrass.com are doing the same. Probably even Yahoo has scientists using tools calibrated back in the nineties. The 1890s.

Some bloggers claim to be outraged, but anybody not expecting to be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed and numbered is probably a big fan of the tooth fairy and still drinking juice out of a sippy cup, wearing footy pajamas. Online privacy is like Taliban science. A fictional concept.

Think of it as Newton’s Law 3.1. The price we must pay for having the world at our fingertips is maintaining an equal and opposite availability to everyone else’s fingertips. Some of which are cold and clammy. Especially the Faceless ones with the chromium digits. But we’ve adapted. You don’t hear a lot of noise about folks going back to MySpace. Or Compuserve.

Facebook claims it is simply trying to create the best environment possible for its petri dish of social contact. And we microbes can expect the research to not only continue but also get more sophisticated. It won’t be long before they are able to predict which of our family members will pass out before Thanksgiving dinner. Which could come in handy with menu planning.

Our best bet is to nudge them in consumer-friendly directions. Don’t they want to know how many people would delete their accounts after all cute cat videos were outlawed? How about a “Bummer” button for deaths, divorces, debacles, disasters and defeats?

The thing is, if Mark Zuckerberg and his ilk are going to use us as lab rats, the least they could do is throw us some minor rewards. When rats finish a maze, aren’t they supposed to get cheese? Hey Zuck, where’s our digital cheese? Make mine Cheddar. Swiss puts me in a bad mood. Ooops. Shouldn’t have said that.

(Editor’s note: Printed with permission. ©2014 Will Durst.)

*****

Will Durst is an award-winning, nationally acclaimed political comic. Visit www.willdurst.com to find out more about his new one-man show.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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